The way we view success in our lives could actually be undermining us.
Success, in simplest form, is the accomplishment of a goal or purpose. That, in itself, is good; however, when we start viewing success, or failure, as the thing that determines our worth, we are in trouble.
How do we let success or failure determine our worth? When we start letting the success or failure of an event or series of events label us one way or the other:
- If I get this job, I am successful. If I don’t, I’m a failure.
- If I win this game, I am a winner. I am successful. If I don’t, I’m a loser, a failure.
- If I get this raise…
- If she says no when I ask her out…
It can sometimes be easy to label ourselves based on events that happen in our lives, but that is dangerous.
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How can this view be harmful, especially if you are successful?
Let’s look at the recent Olympics. Many people train hard for one purpose – to get the gold. How many people get it per event? One.
Take Michael Phelps. From what I read, this was his last Olympics – but let’s just say he comes back again (and again). What if he put his value in life on winning that Gold? What’s going to happen in a few years? He’s going to get older and slower. If his value is on winning the gold, his worth as a person, in his mind, would be that of a failure.
How else can letting your worth as a person be based on a successful event or series of events be dangerous?
If your worth as a person is based on that situation, you become protective of that situation. What if something changes? What will you do to maintain that position?
Let’s say your goal, your value of self was to achieve a certain managerial position. How will you view other people, especially those under you, who are successful? Probably as a threat. Why? Because if they are successful, they might take your place. They would be a challenge to you.
What kind of people would you hire? Not those who would shine, because your focus is on maintaining your position – and you wouldn’t want anyone around that would look smarter or better than you. What kind of boss would you be with that mentality? Probably not good.
You would likely be the kind of boss to take all the credit, exert your power, and do whatever it takes to show and maintain that position that determines your worth.
What about money? What if your goal was money? What if having a certain amount of money determined whether you are a success or failure in your life? The question would be, then, how would you act with that money? Would you be generous or do you think you would be greedy and stingy? What would you do to protect that money? How will you act toward others?
When you base your value on a successful event, you then will do everything you can do to protect that status. It’s not about learning, it’s not about growing, it’s not about helping others – it’s about keeping the thing that determines your worth – and that’s dangerous.
How does our view of failure hurt us?
Let’s go back to the Olympics. Take any of the teams or persons that received last place (or any place but Gold). They trained and trained – and they were last. They lost. What happens if their value of themselves is based on that Gold? What if their worth as a person, their being a success or a failure, is on that one event?
I think it can be easier for many of us to allow a failure to determine our worth – for us to say “I’m a failure” when something bad happens or we fail at something.
I know from personal experience how this can be. I used to beat myself up over things I did or didn’t do years ago. I would say to myself “I’m so stupid”.
How silly is that? How helpful is it for me to do that? I may not have let that event determine my worth as a whole, but I still let that event change how I viewed myself.
Another problem with letting failure define us is that, if we let it define us, then we often quit – and we never reach the success that we really want.
How are we supposed to respond?
Our worth and value are not based on an event or series of events. Those don’t define us. What defines us is how we respond to them. Do we take those failures and move on? Do we learn from our failures and successes and improve?
Dr. Carol Dweck, author of the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, says that there are two kinds of mindsets- a growth mindset and a fixed mindset. A growth mindset believes intelligence can be grown– we can learn, grow better, become smarter – be better. A fixed mindset believes that intelligence is predetermined and that you can’t change it. A fixed mindset believes they you are as smart as you will ever be.
Because of this view, the fixed mindset has to constantly prove to others how smart they are. Failure becomes personal because it shows their lack of ability and intelligence. Successes “prove” the intelligence they have, and a person with this mindset is likely only to pursue activities that they know they will easily “succeed” at.
The growth mindset looks at success and failure differently. A person with a growth mindset looks at failures as opportunities to learn. In fact, a growth mindset knows that failure is a good thing because it is often one of the best ways to learn. They don’t stick with simple successes to prove worth – they know they can grow, be better, and strive for that. They challenge themselves.
Do you see the difference in mindsets? Do you see which mindset is the one that will take failure or success personally? Which one are you?
How do you get a growth mindset?
First, recognize which mindset you have. Are you growth-oriented or fixed? Do you think your intelligence is fixed or do you believe that you can constantly grow and get better?
Second, realize that you do not have to take success or failure personally. It does not define you. What is important is how you respond to it.
When you have success in your life – see what made it a success. What did you do? How did you grow? What can you learn? Look for continued ways to grow. Seek another challenge.
Did you fail? Why did you fail? What can you do better? What can you learn from it? Don’t let it define you. Keep trying. Learn and figure out new ways to tackle this challenge. A failure will only define you as a failure if you let it. If you learn from it, that makes your failure successful.
And don’t quit because of failure. Many, if not most, if not all, successful people had failures along their line to success. I’m sure you’ve heard of some of the following names:
- Elvis Presley was fired in 1954 after one performance and was told that he wasn’t going to go anywhere.
- J.K. Rowling was a single mom living off of welfare when she was writing the first “Harry Potter” book, and then the book itself was rejected by all 12 major publishers that she submitted it.
- Babe Ruth, who is known for his home run record, also held the record for strikeouts for decades.
- Oprah Winfrey was a daughter of a teenage low-income mother, was sexually abused, and grew up most of her early life in rough living conditions. Then, when she started working at a local television station for the news, she was fired because she was told she was “unfit for television”.
- Jay-Z, when starting out, couldn’t find a single label to sign him.
- Stephen King’s first novel, Carrie, was published after being rejected 30 times.
- Bill Gates failed at his first business.
- Walt Disney was fired from his job at a paper because he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” Then his first business went bankrupt.
- Abraham Lincoln failed at multiple businesses and multiple runs for political office before becoming President.
- Michael Jordon was cut from his high school basketball team.
All of these people had failures in their life – but they didn’t let that failure define them.
Take a look at this commercial with Michael Jordan where he talks about how much he has failed – and how that makes him a success.
A great aspect about Michael Jordan as well is that, even when he was on top, he never stopped trying to get better. He definitely has a growth mindset.
Rid yourself of those negative thoughts
I know for me, I can be my own worst enemy. When I make a mistake, when I fail, I can often beat myself up for it. One of the many problems with that is, when I’m blaming and beating myself up, I’m not learning.
If you are a person who beats yourself up when you fail – stop!
Start thinking of postive thoughts. Instead of saying “I’m a failure”, say “I’m a success.” Instead of “I’m a loser”, say “I’m a winner.” Say “I can do it” instead of “I can’t.”
Change how you talk to yourself, and you can change your life.
If you need some extra help – put a rubber band around your wrist. Every time you start thinking negative thoughts, snap it! Pinching yourself could also work. Or you could try a Pavlok.
Don’t let an event or circumstance define you. Make the choice of how you are going to respond, and keep moving forward, success or failure.